Maceió victims v Braskem. Rotterdam court refuses application for Article 34 lis pendens stay.

The (first instance) court at Rotterdam has upheld anchor jurisdiction and refused an application for an Article 34 Brussels Ia stay. The case concerns victims of earthquakes in the Brasilian Maceió region, which they argue are caused by the mining activities of Braskem. The judgment is only available in Dutch.

The Dutch anchor defendants are intra-group suppliers of ia specialty chemicals, and finance. The main target of the claim of course is the Brasilian mother holding. Whether the latter can be brought into the proceedings is not subject to Brussels Ia but rather to Dutch residual rules. However just as in e.g. Shell, the Dutch rules are applied with CJEU authority on Article 8(1) Brussels Ia firmly in mind. In much more succinct terms than the English courts in similar proceedings, the Dutch courts [6.16] finds the cases so ‘closely related’ that it is expedient to hear the cases together. It emphasises that while the respective roles and liabilities of the various undertakings concerned is likely to be very different, there is a bundle of legal and factual questions that runs jointly throughout the various claims. [6.18] it emphasises that the decision to base the European headquarters of the group, and the finance activities at Rotterdam, implies that the concern reasonably could have foreseen it would be sued here.

Equally succinctly [6.19 ff] the Court rejects the argument that the use of the Dutch corporations as anchor defendants is an abuse of process. Such abuse must be narrowly construed and  it is far from obvious that the claim against the anchors is entirely without merit.

Seemingly defendants tried to argue forum non conveniens however [6.23] the court points out such construction does not exist in The Netherlands and obiter it adds (like the Court of Appeal in Municipio) that practical complications in either hearing of the case or enforcement of any judgment are not a reason to dismiss jurisdiction.

Request for a stay in the procedures viz the Brasilian corporations [6.26] is rejected on (Dutch CPR) lis pendens rules for the parties in the proceedings are not the same. Article 34 is dealt with in two paras (quite a contrast with the E&W courts). The pending procedures vis-a-vis Article 34 are not, it seems, Brasilian Civil Public Actions – CPAS (these were at issue in Municipio de Mariana (of some interest is that the law firm behind the claims is the same in both cases)). Rather, pending liquidation proceedings are considered as the relevant assessment points. [6.28] obiter the court finds that the cases are most probably not related. It grounds  its decision however on a stay not being in the interest of the sound administration of justice. The court holds that the Brasilian proceedings are not likely to be concluded within a reasonable time. Defendants’ commitment at hearing to speed up the process in Brasil, are met with disbelief by the court given the defendants’ attitude in the Brasilian procedures hitherto.

[6.32] permission to appeal the interim judgment on jurisdiction is denied. This means that, like in Airbus, discussion on the private international law issues is likely only to resurface at the stage of appealing the judgment on the merits, too.

An important judgment: other than Petrobas, there are to my knowledge no continental judgments discussing Article 34 in this intensity (there are E&W judgments, as readers of the blog will know).

Geert.

See also ‘Dude, where’s my EU court? On the application of Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens- light rules’, Journal of Private International Law, forthcoming 2022.

 

Van Heck v Giambrone. In the absence of an EU harmonised approach, whether an issue is finally determined by foreign courts (relevant to lis pendens purposes) is a matter of national civil procedure, and as foreign law needs to be proven.

This one is overdue for review on the blog. In Van Heck v Giambrone & Partners Studio Legale Associato [2022] EWHC 1098 (QB) the High Court confirmed in appeal the refusal of a stay on Article 29 Brussels Ia lis pendens grounds in a case concerning a barrister’s claim for professional fees. The defendant in the English proceedings had initiated an Italian claim, prior to the English claim, in which it denied liability for the fees: a classic mirror claim. The court of first instance in Palermo had denied it had jurisdiction. That judgment went to appeal, where it is pending however the first instance, sole judge in England held that the jurisdictional issue had been conclusively dealt with and was not in appeal. Hence that no ‘lis’ was still pending for Article 29 to apply.

Soole J [75] held that the critical question for determination was whether the proceedings in the court first seised, i.e. the Palermo Claim, had been ‘finally determined in relation to its jurisdiction’. Whether or not that is the case, in the absence of a European harmonised approach to whether the national courts are still seized of the jurisdictional issue, is a matter of national procedural law [80]] which the E&W judge is to assess as a matter of foreign law hence fact, to be proven by the parties. That finding is a factual issue which the judge held upon with the help of relevant expert and  is not within the appeal.

Stay therefore dismissed.

Geert.

Municipio de Mariana v BHP. Questions on Brussels Ia’s lis pendens rules viz third states remain. Yet overall approach to environment, human rights suits against corporations in their domicile, to be applauded.

Municipio De Mariana & Ors v BHP Group (UK) Ltd & Anor [2022] EWCA Civ 951 (background to the case here) is the appeal against the stay (and partial strike-out), on forum non conveniens, A33-34 Brussels Ia and case-management grounds ordered by Justice Turner. The Court of Appeal has overturned all three reasons for a stay. Bar appeal with the Supreme Court (which the defendants are likely to seek) the claimants may now bring their claim in the courts of England and Wales.

For the benefit of full disclosure I should add I am instructed for claimants in the case; this post however does not speak for claimants or co-counsel in the case and is merely my academic view on the judgment.

The judgment runs to 107 pages (not excessive given the issues and facts covered). There is little point in me rehashing it all (again, reference to my previous post may be useful). 40 pages are spent describing the applicable law in Brasil and the various proceedings underway there. This is of particular importance seeing as the crux of all three defences advanced is that the proceedings are already underway in Brasil and should not be duplicated by an English procedure.

In the main:

Abuse is dealt with [170] ff, with the key points for reversal listed [179] and the CA’s own analysis detailed thereafter, summarising in [234] ff.

Of particular note here is the rebuke of Justice Turner’s finding of ‘unmanageability’ of proceedings (which the CA as such does not believe will be the case) having dominated his subsequent findings on other elements of abuse, and the use of forum non conveniens criteria for the assessment of abuse.

[182] Consideration should have been made of the question of the availability of full redress in Brazil. To those following business and human rights litigation, this will be a welcome finding. [186] Support for manageability of proceedings not having a place in the abuse assessment (other than [187] if the claimant were to have vexatiously made the proceedings unmanageable himself), was found in Mastercard v Merricks [2020] UKSC 5.

[190] discussion of what Turner J at the abuse level,  saw as complications arising out of the existence of parallel proceedings in Brazil, already indicate the direction the Court took on the forum non and A34 issue: the many differences between the English and the Brazilian proceedings.

The Article 34 Brussels Ia application is discussed [237] ff and is of particular relevance to readers of the blog.

Firstly [256] the Court of Appeal settles for now the Privatbank /Euroeco discussion on ‘expediency’ (see also ia SCOR v Barclays) in favour of the former: What is required to fulfil A34(1)(a)’s condition is that it must be desirable for the two actions to be heard and determined together in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments, irrespective of whether that is a practical possibility. (Claimants have reserved the right to contest this should the matter go before the Supreme Court).

Further [257] the test of relatedness for the purposes of A34 is held by the CA to be a broad test: [243] per Tesauro AG in C-406/92 The Tatry, whenever the judge seized of the stay request considers that the reasoning adopted by the court hearing the earlier proceedings may concern issues likely to be relevant to its own decision, the cases can be said to be related. This is opposed to the narrow approach in the House of Lords Sarrio SA v Kuwait Investment Office [1991] AC 32: there the HoL held that for there to be a risk of irreconcilable judgments the inquiry is limited to “primary” issues which are those necessary to establish the cause of action, and does not include issues which the court might or might not decide and which would not be essential to its conclusion.

On the condition ‘that the court of the third State will give a judgment capable of recognition‘, at the hearing the question was asked whether a twofold condition exists, namely (i) that a judgment was expected as a matter of fact and (ii) that the expected judgment was one which was capable of recognition and, where applicable, enforcement. The Court [260] supports the view that only the second (ii) condition applies. I do not think that is correct and I am not convinced by the Court’s travaux analysis on this point [266] – I detail this in my forthcoming paper in the JPIL. As for that second condition, the CA holds [269] that ‘the exercise at this stage is a conceptual one, looking at the type of judgment to which the third state pending action may give rise, and evaluating whether it attracts recognition, or where applicable enforceability.’

Necessity for the proper administration of justice’ is dealt with [273] ff (although it confusingly includes discussion of more than just this ultimate A33-34 condition), starting with the discussion whether a stay was available or could be justified on a “consolidation” basis (effectively, an allocation of jurisdiction [275], or on a “wait and see” basis [temporary case-management: wait and see whether and to what extent the outcome of the case ex-EU affects the action in the member state]. [277] Underhill LJ takes a holistic approach: Does waiting for the outcome [of the Brazilian proceedings held to be related] give rise to advantages which sufficiently outweigh any disadvantages such that a stay is necessary? [279] The CA takes a broad approach to the issues that might be considered, including issues classic to a forum non conveniens analysis. I believe that is right, with the important caveat that A34 must not effectively be conflated with forum non (which is what the first instance judge had effectively done) (compare Ness).

[282] the Court takes a formalistic (and correct) view on the ‘related proceedings’ and their being ‘pending’:

for the purposes of the article 34 application, the nature and extent of overlap which falls to be considered when addressing whether and to what extent there is a risk of irreconcilable judgments, and in considering whether that risk weighs in favour of a stay being necessary for the proper administration of justice, is limited by reference to that which might be decided in the [pending Brazilian proceedings].

In particular, an advantage eg in winding-up proceedings viz the defendants or related undertakings, which could be obtained down the line from the outcome of the related proceedings, would not be caught by the comparative overlap and the likelihood of relatedness therefore is seriously reduced ([283] contrary to Turner J’s finding that that the list of areas in which potentially
irreconcilable judgments are liable to arise was “almost endless”).

[291] ff the CA makes its own assessment of the ‘proper administration of justice’ requirement given the judge’s core mistakes (particularly, his abuse conflation and the consideration given to future proceedings which are not pending).

[298] The CA holds that the continuation of the claim against BHP Australia (for which later in the judgment it finds that this is not barred on forum non grounds) in and of itself argues against an A34 stay (and that relevant parts of Lord Briggs’ speech in Vedanta do not change that).

Obiter [300] ff it lists other factors against a stay: [302] there is a real possibility that final resolution of the related BRA proceedings,  if they resume at all, is well over a decade away; [303] ‘For there to be a further delay of years, and quite possibly over a decade, before [E&W proceedings] could resume would cause very substantial prejudice to the claimants in obtaining relief, and would be inimical to the efficient administration of justice as a result of all the well-known problems which delay brings to the process’; [304] ff there are many disadvantages to the BRA proceedings including that these will not address the liability of the defendants in the E&W proceedings; [308] the degree of overlap between the proceedings is limited.

The forum non application is highly relevant given the English courts’ preponderant reliance on it, outside the BIa context, following UKSC Brownlie. Of note here is ia [345] the unrealistic prospect of the alternatives being suggested – I will leave the further forum non analysis to blogs less focused on European conflict of laws.

Rejection of a case-management stay is done succinctly, with Underhill LJ noting ia [374] that such stay would be incompatible with A34 and A4 BIa.

 

All in all I do not agree with each of the Court’s findings on tenets of A34, however in general the Court’s application reflects the correct approach to the Article, which very much makes a stay the exception.

Geert.

 

See also ‘Dude, where’s my EU court? On the application of Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens- light rules’, Journal of Private International Law, forthcoming 2022.

The Brazilian orange juice cartel: successful claimants on among others Article 34 Brussels Ia ‘forum non light’, with lingering doubts on A4 ‘domicile’..

Viegas & Ors v Cutrale & Ors [2021] EWHC 2956 (Comm) (05 November 2021) concerns an alleged cartel between several Brazilian companies which produce orange juice, including Sucocítrico Cutrale: 3rd defendant. The other two defendants, Mr Cutrale Sr and Mr Cutrale Jr,  are natural persons Claimants are orange farmers who are all domiciled in Brazil.  The claim relates to alleged antitrust infringements committed in Brazil and said to have restricted competition in markets in Brazil, causing harm to the Claimants there.

Claimants claim to be entitled to maintain proceedings in England and Wales on the bases that:

i)                   although Sucocítrico Cutrale is a Brazilian company, it has its central administration in London and is therefore domiciled in the UK pursuant to A63(1)(b) Brussels Ia;

ii)                 alternatively, the Claimants were entitled to serve Sucocítrico Cutrale, pursuant to CPR 6.3(c)/6.9(2) at a “place within the jurisdiction where [it] carries on its activities; or any place of business of the company within the jurisdiction”.

iii)               Cutrale Snr is domiciled in England; and

iv)               Cutrale Jnr is domiciled in Switzerland and the claims against him are so closely connected with the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale and Cutrale Snr that it is expedient to hear and determine them together so as to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments, pursuant to Article 6 Lugano Convention.

The Defendants’ position is in outline as follows:

Sucocítrico Cutrale

i)                   Sucocítrico Cutrale has its “central administration” in Brazil and is therefore not domiciled in the UK for the purpose of A63(1)(b) BIa.  There is therefore no right to bring proceedings against the company in England under Article 4(1). The court must apply common law principles to determine jurisdiction.

ii)                 Alternatively, the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale should be stayed under A33 and/or 34 BIa because of ongoing proceedings in Brazil concerning the alleged cartel.

iii)               The Claimants were not entitled to serve Sucocítrico Cutrale at an address within the jurisdiction, and so the company has not been validly served.

iv)               Alternatively, applying common law forum non conveniens principles, Brazil is the proper place for the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale and the court should not exercise jurisdiction against it.  The claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale should be stayed even if (contrary to the Defendants’ primary case) Cutrale Snr is domiciled in England. Cutrale Snr has confirmed that he would submit to the jurisdiction of the Brazilian court. The risk of inconsistent judgments in England and Brazil therefore carries little weight because it would be caused by the Claimants’ unnecessary pursuit of litigation in England. In such circumstances, the court may stay the claims against the foreign defendant notwithstanding the presence of a UK domiciled anchor defendant (reference is made to Vedanta Resources plc v Lungowe [2020] AC 1045 . I flagged the ‘submission to foreign jurisdiction’ issue in my review of Vedanta).

Cutrale Snr

v)                  Cutrale Snr is not domiciled in the UK. There is therefore no right to bring proceedings against him under A4(1) BIa.

vi)               Further or alternatively, the court should stay the claims against Cutrale Snr pursuant to A34 BIa because of the ongoing proceedings in Brazil.

vii)             Although Cutrale Snr was served in the jurisdiction, applying common law forum non conveniens principles Brazil is the proper place for the claim.  Accordingly, the court should decline jurisdiction.

Cutrale Jnr

viii)           If neither Sucocítrico Cutrale nor Cutrale Snr is English domiciled there is no basis to assume jurisdiction against Cutrale Jnr.

ix)               If Cutrale Snr is English domiciled but the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale are to proceed in Brazil, the criteria under A6 Lugano are not met because it would be more expedient for the claims against Cutrale Jnr to be heard in Brazil alongside the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale.

x)                  Further or alternatively, the court should stay the claims pursuant to a reflexive application of A28 Lugano Convention because of the ongoing proceedings in Brazil.

Henshaw J held that the court lacks jurisdiction over Sucocítrico Cutrale however that it does have jurisdiction over Cutrale Snr and Cutrale Jnr and  that there is no proper basis on which to stay the claims against them.

Domicile of Sucocítrico Cutrale (‘SuCu’)

A63 BIa determines corporate domicile as the place where the corporation has its (a) statutory seat; (b) central administration; or (c) principal place of business. Claimants suggest place of central administration as being in London. Anglo American came to my mind as indeed it did to counsel and judge in current case. At 31 ff a concise look into the travaux is offered as are references to CJEU case-law under freedom of establishment (including Uberseering). I would be cautious however with too much emphasis on those cases, which are judged in quite a different context to the one in a jurisdictional assessment.

SuCu are in in essence a family-run business [55]. This is also emphasised in the witness statement of Cutrale Sr himself. SuCu refer extensively to its internal by-laws and the role in same for the ‘Executive Board’ which is made up of professionals. However there is also a, by-laws sanctioned, Family Board (in which Cutrale Sr until recently had a 99% stake). The Executive Board, by defendant’s own admission [55], runs the company on a day to day basis. The Family Board seemingly meets at various places worldwide, and the role of London in the family Board’s direction is not small, given that Cutrale Sr has secretarial assistance for his business interests there, and that his daughter (who also sits on the Family Board) conducts all her business interests there [57].

In Anglo American, the CA held

 ‘the correct interpretation of “central administration” in Article 60(1)(b)when applied to a company, is that it is the place where the company concerned, through its relevant organs according to its own constitutional provisions, takes the decisions that are essential for that company’s operations. That is, to my mind, the same thing as saying it is the place where the company, through its relevant organs, conducts its entrepreneurial management; for that management must involve making decisions that are essential for that company’s operation’

[75] ff the judge does not see London as that place where the entrepreneurial management takes place. This is to some degree a factual appraisal however I I am minded to see quite strong arguments in favour of London. I do not think for instance that BIa’s DNA of predictability for the defendant knowing where it might be sued, carries too much weight here seeing as the complex structure and the diverse effective location of the Family Board’s meetings is of its own making. By failing clearly to implement one centre of entrepreneurial management, visible to outsiders, the defendant in my view brings the risk of positive conflicts of jurisdiction upon itself.  All the more so in my view in cases where, such as here, the accusation is involvement in a cartel, which is unlikely to have happened with the firm controller of the Family Board having been kept in the dark.

Alternative serving under CPR 6.9.(2) [“Any place within the jurisdiction where the corporation carries on its activities; or any place of business of the company within the jurisdiction.”] is also dismissed: [104] ff.

[112] ff the judge discusses the domicile of Cutrale Sr which, per A62(1) BIa is to be determined under English law. This [129] ff is held to be England.

Cutrale Jr being undisputably domiciled in Switserland, the question arises whether the claim against him may be anchored upon the claim against his father, per A6(2) Lugano. The judge is reminded of his own judgment in PIS v Al Rajaan. Defendants submit that if the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale must be pursued in Brazil, it is more expedient for the claims against Cutrale Jnr to be pursued in that jurisdiction, even if the Claimants are entitled to sue Cutrale Snr as of right in England. However [142] the judge agrees with Claimants’ point that somewhat different policy considerations arise when considering the risk of inconsistent judgments within the EU (or between Lugano States), compared to the position vis-à-vis so-called ‘third States’, and that the latter context does not involve the same particular impetus to remove obstacles to the single market and observe the principle of ‘mutual trust’ between the courts of different Member States.

Whilst the claims against Cutrale Jnr are of course connected with those against Sucocitrico, they are also bound to involve important issues in common with the claims against Cutrale Snr which (subject to the issue of an A34 stay, see below) are to be pursued in England  [143].

[144] In conclusion the expediency threshold under A6 Lugano is held to have been reached.

Next, a stay of the proceedings against Cutrale Snr under A34 BIa is rejected [147] ff. Much of the A34 authority, all of which I have discussed on the blog, is flagged. The judge observes the tension between Kolomoisky and EuroEco Fuels (Poland) as to whether the power to stay depends on there being a procedural means by which the two actions could, in fact, be tried together. At [163] the judge thankfully notes the important distinction between A33-34 and A29-30, despite citing A29-30 authority with some emphasis:

I would observe, however, in disagreement with the Defendants, that despite the similarity of language it may well make a difference whether a stay is sought (a) under Article 28 as such or (b) under Article 34 or under Article 28 as applied reflexively vis a vis proceedings in a third country (see § 238 below).  The observation quoted above that there might be a presumption in favour of a stay seems considerably easier to justify in a case where the intra-EU internal market considerations referred to in § 142 above apply than where the overseas proceedings are in a non-Member State.  On the contrary, a presumption of a stay in favour of a third country state of proceedings prima facie brought as a right against a defendant in his place of domicile may well be hard to square with the fundamental principles underlying the Brussels and Lugano regimes.

At [221], too, and in an in my view important and marked departure from Justice Turner in Municipio, Henshaw J here holds that

whilst recital 24 indicates that the court should consider all the circumstances of the case, it does not follow that the court can grant a stay pursuant to Article 34 which is in substance no more than a forum non conveniens stay.  It follows that the factors listed in § 213.iv) above are relevant only insofar as they support the granting of a stay based on the Favero and Costa claims as related claims.

This puts the horse back before the cart.

At [164] ff the ‘rival’ Brasil claims are discussed, [197] of which only two predate the current E&W claim against Cutrale Sr and a conclusion [210] that these are related in a broad sense to the present claims, but that degree of relationship would be insufficient to make it expedient to stay the present claims by reference to them.

[213] ff the various arguments that a stay would be in the ‘interest of justice’ are rejected: these include in particular [216] suggestions of consolidation or joint case management, whilst theoretically possible, are unrealistic in practice (reference is made ia to the fact that none of the current Brazilian claims have been consolidated); [217] neither rival claim is likely to reach a conclusion in the reasonably foreseeable future: on the contrary, both have been mired in procedural disputes for many years.

Similar arguments are made obiter when considering an A33-34 stay against Sucocitrico (in the event the A4 analysis, above, were to be wrong): [241] ff.

At 237, the possibility of a stay of the proceedings against Cutrale Jr, under a reflexive application of A28 Lugano is rejected with mere reference to the reasons listed viz the A34 stay. The judge has to follow the Court of Appeal’s finding in Kolomoisky, that reflexive application of A28 Lugano is possible. Clearly, I submit, it is not and this will be an important point to clarify when and if the UK accede to Lugano.

The judge concludes [249] ff by obiter upholding a forum non stay. His arguments here are interesting among others for they lead to a different result than the A33-34 application – which serves to confirm the very different nature of both mechanisms.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.3.

Rantos AG in TOTO. Important considerations on lis pendens and provisional measures, and on contractual drafting of choice of court.

Advocate General Rantos opined two weeks ago in C-581/20 Skarb Państwa Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej reprezentowany przez Generalnego Dyrektora Dróg Krajowych i Autostrad v TOTO SpA – Costruzioni Generali et al. – I propose we shorthand the case as ‘TOTO’.

Following public procurement, the Polish treasury granted the works for the construction of a stretch of motorway to an Italian consortium. In the contract, choice of court is made for Poland. The necessary guarantees eg for payment of fines in the event of late completion, were underwritten by a Bulgarian insurance company, whose guarantee is subject to Polish law. The consortium  to no avail sought negative declaratory relief (with a view to obtaining a finding that no fines are due under the contract) and injunctive relief (with a view to prohibiting the Polish authorities from exercising the guarantee) with the Polish court with substance matter jurisdiction. However it subsequently secured the injunctive relief from a Bulgarian court with Article 35 Brussels Ia provisional measures jurisdiction. This relief expressed itself inter alia in custodial attachment of the guarantees which the Polish authorities had sought to exercise with a European Order for Payment form. That Bulgarian relief is now before the Bulgarian Supreme Court.

The questions before the court are  whether the provisional measures can at all be ordered under the A35 gateway given that they might concern acta iure imperii and not civil and commercial matters; and if the matter is within the scope of BIa, whether the A35 court may still order such measures if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has denied them. Finally, whether if the issue is within the scope of BIa, the ordinarily applicable Bulgarian rule that no such relief may be ordered against public authorities, must be set aside.

The Advocate-General suggests the Court settle the questions mainly by recourse to the lis pendens rule of A29 ff of the Regulation, rather than by the alternative of focusing on the ‘provisional’ nature of the measures imposed by the A35 court. A29 ff do not limit their application to substance matter proceedings hence if and when the lis pendens conditions are met, the court last seized must (identical cases) or may (related cases) relinquish its jurisdiction. The opposite is true, as well: if the A35 court has been seized first, the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has been gazumped at least for provisional measures.

The AG also (55 ff) suggests that choice of court must be read to include authority for the chosen court to issue provisional measures, but not (unless expressly agreed; an issue of contractual interpretation which must be left to the national judge to assess) the exclusion of other courts to exercise their A35 jurisdiction.

Finally if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has taken a definitive decision viz the provisional measures, that decision travels under Title III BIa and A45 does not seem to offer room to object to recognition and enforcement. Should that decision not yet be definitive, the ordinary lis pendens rules must apply.

This is a case with rather important contractual drafting and civil procedure consequences.

Geert.

EU Private International law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.512ff, 2.550 ff, 5.584 ff.

 

Trappit v American Express Europe. On choice of court in NDAs, privity, and lis pendens viz provisionally closed Spanish proceedings.

Trappit SA & Ors v American Express Europe LLC & Anor [2021] EWHC 1344 (Ch) confirms an application to strike out or stay proceedings claiming infringement of intellectual property rights in a computer programme called ARPO (relevant to fare re-booking), and breach of non-contractual obligations of confidence that are said to have arisen when ARPO was made available by claimants (Panamanian and Spanish special purpose vehicles of 2 software engineers) to first Defendant AmEx (a Delaware corporation with a registered branch in England), for assessment. AmEx after inspection declined to take a licence. AmEx reorganised and second defendant GBT UK (a joint AmEx and private equity venture) acquired AmEx Europe’s travel management services business in the UK. GBT use an alternative software which claimants argue is effectively an ARPO rip-off facilitated by AmEx’ consultation of ARPO.

The application is made by the Defendants, who argue Claimants are contractually bound to litigate the claims in Spain rather than England (an A25 Brussels Ia argument), or that in light of proceedings that have already been brought and provisionally determined against the Second Claimant in Spain, the E&W  should decline jurisdiction (A29 BIa) or strike out the English proceedings as an abuse of process.

First on the issue of choice of court and privity under A25 BIa. Relevant authority discussed includes CJEU CDC and UKSC AMT Futures v Marzillier. At 6 ff the genesis of choice of court and law provisions in the NDA is mapped (drafts had been sent to and fro). As Snowden J notes at 76,

it is the parties related to Trappit SA who are the claimants, who sought the NDA before making ARPO available to AmEx Europe, and who asked for a Spanish law and jurisdiction clause. However, it is those parties who now contend that the jurisdiction clause does not bind them and that they are free to issue proceedings in England for breach of confidence and copyright infringement arising (so they say) from the unauthorised copying of the source code to ARPO. In contrast, it was the parties related to AmEx Europe who would most naturally be the defendants to any claim under the NDA and who originally proposed an English law and jurisdiction clause. But it is those parties who are now contending that the jurisdiction clause in the NDA binds all parties and requires all of the claims made in the English Proceedings to be litigated in Spain.

The eventual clause reads “18. Governing law and jurisdiction. This Agreement (including any non-contractual obligations arising out of or in connection with the same) shall be governed in all respects by the laws of Spain without regard to conflict of law principles. Any dispute or controversy arising in connection with this Agreement shall be submitted before the courts of the city of Madrid, Spain.”

At 77 the judge notes that the scope and the circumstances in which persons other than Trappit SA and AmEx Europe might become a party to the NDA are matters to be determined in accordance with Spanish law as the governing law of the NDA. This underestimates the impact of A25 itself and discussion of in particular CJEU Refcomp rather than the tort /contract discussion in CDC would have been appropriate. Snowden J relies on expert reports on Spanish law with respect to (i) the proper approach to contractual construction, and (ii) the circumstances in which third parties can be bound by contracts.

Conclusion on these report is that a narrow construction of the clause must be rejected: [94] ‘all types of claims arising from misuse of the information which the NDA envisaged would be provided by one party to the other. This would include claims based upon unauthorised copying and infringement of intellectual property rights as well as claims for breach of confidence,..’ (At 97-98 a side-argument based on A8 Rome II is dismissed).

As for the privity element, Snowden J finds there was no contractual intention for other corporate entities also to be parties entitled to enforce the agreement and there was no indication that any other company was intended to acquire rights (or be bound) under the NDA. Spanish (statutory) law on assignment, subrogation and the like does not alter this.

Conclusion [138]: ‘the jurisdiction clause in the NDA applied to all the claims in the English Proceedings, but that it only binds AmEx Europe and Trappit SA as the original signatories to the NDA. The effect of Article 25 is that the English courts therefore have no jurisdiction over the claims brought by Trappit SA against AmEx Europe in the English Proceedings.’ Proceedings against GBT on that basis may continue on a A4 BIa basis (neither of the UK Defendants were named defendants to the Spanish Proceedings, hence an A29 ff lis alibi pendens argument against them has no object).

Obiter viz AmEx Europe yet of relevance to the UK defendants, on Article 29 lis pendens, of note is first of all that the Spanish proceedings are criminal ones, with an embedded civil liability claim. The English Proceedings were issued prior to the provisional dismissal of the Spanish Proceedings but after the delivery of the Expert Report in those proceedings whose findings were part incorporated into the Spanish judge’s provisional dismissal.

The first, threshold issue on A29 is whether the Spanish courts are still seised of the Spanish Proceedings seeing as there is a provisional dismissal in the Spanish criminal proceedings. Authority discussed was Easygroup v Easy Rent a Car [2019] EWCA Civ 477 and Hutchinson v Mapfre was also referred to. A29 only applies where there are concurrent proceedings before the courts of different member states at the time when the court second seised makes its determination [147]. Following the reasoning in Hutchinson, the judge decides  that the Spanish courts are no longer seized of the case: experts are agreed that the case has been closed and archived, and that it is unlikely in the extreme that any new evidence would come to light so as to justify reopening the case after more than five years of extensive investigatory proceedings in Spain [158].

A final set of arguments by the defendants, based on issue estoppel (the Expert Report had found that there had been no plagiarism or copying of the ARPO source code by the Defendants), Henderson v Henderson abuse, and vexatious ligation (all under an ‘abuse of process‘ heading) is dismissed.

Conclusion [195]: no jurisdiction to entertain any of the claims made in the English proceedings between Trappit SA and AmEx Europe by reason of the application of A25 BIa. The case against the UK defendants may continue.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.296 ff (2.355 ff), 2.532 ff.

 

Suing ‘Norsk Hydro’ in The Netherlands. No engagement it seems of Article 33-34 BIa ‘forum non conveniens light’.

A quick note on the suit in The Netherlands against “Norsk Hydro” of Norway, for alleged pollution caused by aluminium production in Brasil. No court decisions or orders are available as yet hence I write simply to log the case. I have put Norsk Hydro in inverted commas for the suit really is against Norsk Hydro subsidiaries incorporated in The Netherlands, who are said to control the Brazilian entities. The jurisdictional basis therefore is A4 BIa. As far as the reporting on the case  indicates, there seems little likelihood of A33-34 BIa’s forum non conveniens light making an appearance seeing as no Brazilian proceedings are reported to be underway which could sink the Dutch proceedings like the High Court did in Municipio de Mariana. That is not to say of course that the defendants might not discover some.

Geert.

EU Private International Law., 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 7.3.1.

Does the EU need an arbitration Regulation?

the existence of parallel arbitration and judicial proceedings (lis pendens issues; see also here); and the circulation of arbitral awards and arbitration-related judgments, including the issue of the conclusive and preclusive effects of prior arbitral awards in relation to conflicting judgments (res judicata issues: including whether the priority which the Brussels I-Regulation concedes to the New York Convention, means that a court in a Member State can or indeed must give priority to a conflicting arbitral award over a judgment of the court of another EU Member State).

A great kick-off to a continuing debate. Geert.

 

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